Hogmanay bonfire attendees ‘let things go’ as they welcome 2024

Annual tradition draws record crowd


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The Hogmanay bonfire has been a tradition of the Lawrence Historical Society since 1997. Photo by Lea Kahn/Staff

Jen Guider wadded up a slip of paper and tossed it into the bonfire behind the Brearley House on New Year’s Eve.

On it, she wrote that she wanted to get rid of debt.

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“That’s a good thing to let go,” said Guider, who lives in Lawrence Township. It was her first time attending the Lawrence Historical Society’s annual Hogmanay bonfire.

Murray Natkie said his wish for the new year was “to let things go that I do not want in the next year.”

His wife, Nicole Karluk, agreed.

“It’s a good notion. Burn anything that you don’t want anymore. Make room for things you do want,” Karluk said.

But their six-year-old son, Corvus Natkie, had a different “take” on the “toss the list of bad things in the fire” tradition of Hogmanay.

“Corvus threw in a wish for Halloween,” his father said.

Guider, Natkie and Karluk were among the approximately 1,000 people who turned out for the Hogmanay bonfire on New Year’s Eve. It is the signature event for the Lawrence Historical Society.

While they were waiting for the bonfire to begin, visitors toured the 18th-century Brearley House. The house belongs to Lawrence Township.

A special scavenger hunt was arranged by the Lawrence Junior Historians group. Children were encouraged to look for items scattered throughout the house. There was a replica of the U.S. Constitution signed by David Brearley, a spinning wheel, the Brearley family Bible, and a baby’s cradle.

As the sky darkened, crowds of visitors – five and six people deep – began to gather around the pyramid of wood that would soon be ignited for the bonfire. One father hoisted his son on his shoulders so the child could have a better view of the bonfire.

Fire master Michael Knab and his helpers from Boy Scout Troop 28 lit the bonfire as bagpiper Graham Kronk set the tone for the evening. Dressed in a kilt, he played traditional Scottish tunes on his set of bagpipes.

Soon, the flames roared toward the sky. People tossed slips of paper into the bonfire, letting go of the bad things that had happened to them in 2023, and wishing for a better 2024.

The Hogmanay bonfire has been a tradition of the Lawrence Historical Society since 1997. Photo by Lea Kahn/Staff

The Hogmanay bonfire has been a tradition of the Lawrence Historical Society since 1997.

The bonfire began as a way to showcase the Brearley House, which was built in 1761, while it was undergoing restoration by Lawrence Township. It proved to be so popular that Hogmanay became an annual event.

The first bonfire was suggested by Lawrence Historical Society member Joseph Logan, who recalled similar bonfires in his childhood home of Savannah, Ga.

The bonfires were a New Year’s Eve community celebration to mark the end of the holiday season with the burning of the year’s Christmas trees. Lawrence Historical Society members researched bonfires and discovered the customs of Hogmanay. The tradition of the New Year’s Eve bonfire was born.

No one knows the origin of the name Hogmanay, according to www.hogmanay.net. It is the Scottish word for “the last day of the year,” and it may have entered the Scots language from the French “hoguinane” – a New Year’s gift; the Gaelic “oge maidne” – the new morning; or the Anglo-Saxon “haleg monath” – holy month.

The various local traditions found in Scotland that are centered around fire all hark back to the ancient past. In pagan winter celebrations, fire symbolized the newly resurgent sun that came back to the land, and it was believed to ward off evil spirits dwelling in the darkness.

Fire still plays a significant role in Hogmanay, with bonfires, torchlight processions and fireworks still popular in Scotland.

The most important aspect of any Hogmanay celebration is cleansing for the new year. It includes paying off debts, washing the house and banishing thoughts of bad happenings from the previous year.

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